The Descent (2005)
One of the most genuinely frightening & paranoia inducing films to come out in a long time, The Descent is an ingeniously crafted horror masterpiece that seamlessly intertwines its highly tense & cleverly paced story with inventive cinematography, tight editing & strong performances to create an undeniably creepy atmosphere of unrelenting claustrophobia which eventually launches such an all-out assault on our senses that the ensuing events turn into nothing short of an escalating experience of nightmarish horror. Inducing fear from its isolated look, grim tone & eerie mood rather than relying on typical jump scares, The Descent is the very definition of horror in its purest form and with its sinister plot & nerve-jangling adventure, easily qualifies as one of the scariest films of this or any other decade.
The Descent is centered around Sarah, an adventure junkie who, while coming back from a vacation with her family & friends, suffers a life altering tragedy when a car collision ends up killing her husband & daughter. One year later, Sarah, who is still grieving her loss, somehow agrees to go on a spelunking trip that was planned by her friends Juno, Beth & others in the Appalachian mountains. As they embark on their new adventure, things go as intended for a while but soon take a turn for the worse when a cave collapses, leaving them trapped in the underground with limited supplies. Under the confinements of cave rocks & darkness that plays a game of its own, tension & panic arise as the group begins to lose their sanity and their plan to escape the cave system soon turns into a fight for survival when they encounter an unknown danger that had been lurking in that darkness since forever.
The direction by Neil Marshall is very impressive as he lets the claustrophobic nature of his film play mind games with the viewers & by employing the ‘less is more’ trick, Marshall truly succeeds in letting our imagination run wild. Writing is also equally good as plenty of time is devoted to creating the build up, tension & mood of isolation while moving the story forward. The mountains & underground caves are exquisitely photographed but it’s the effective use of shadows & lighting where cinematography plays its best part, giving The Descent a look of its own. Editing shows a terrific control over the pacing of this film which made its experience all the more intense. And finally, the score by David Julyan is pure poetry that beautifully weaved itself with the film’s events & contributed a lot in creating the perfect tension & mood this film was aiming for. With all its filmmaking elements working in perfect harmony, I think it’s fair to say that The Descent is one of the most technically sound films of its genre.
Coming to the performances, this film features an all female cast of six beautiful actresses who all chipped in with strong & sincere performances which apart from providing this film a realistic mood also made the drama all the more plausible. Shauna Macdonald stars as Sarah, the centered piece of this film around whom the whole story revolves, and elegantly captures the trauma, uncertainty & survival instincts of her character. Natalie Mendoza plays Juno, Sarah’s best friend & an incredibly athletic adventurer who planned this cave expedition, with Mendoza strongly exhibiting the aggression, determination & leader role of her character. Finally, we have Alex Reid as Beth, the third major role of this film. Even though Reid doesn’t get as much screen time as Shauna & Natalie, her character plays a very vital role in the film’s plot. Other three characters i.e. Sam, Rebecca & Holly are in the film as acquaintances who join the trio in their adventure & were surprisingly good.
Overall, The Descent is a masterfully executed piece of original work from Neil Marshall and is an illustrious example of a horror film done right. Taking sufficient time to build up suspense & tension, this film totally immerses its viewers into its world & takes them on a claustrophobic tour of the abyss that never slows down until the credit rolls. Plus, not only Marshall keeps all the characters firmly grounded by making the actors perform in ways we probably would’ve in the same situation but also raises some pretty fair questions about the morality of the very people we were rooting for. From start to finish, The Descent will play with your mind, forcing you to make assumptions & imagine the outcomes, and yet will manage to surprise & shock you psychologically & viscerally. Destined to bring a smile on the faces of horror fanatics along with many screams of horror, this bloodstained nightmare of a spelunking adventure gone horribly wrong is absolutely recommended.
P.S. Make sure you grab the Unrated Cut for it contains the original ending that sensibly wraps this film the way it was always meant to be.